I just watched Sisters and binged again on Girls and I am reminded that while Tina, Amy and Lena are hilarious, talented, trailblazers, Greta Lee is my role model. As Hae Won and Soojin, she nails it, and no, they do not play into America’s favorite dismissed stereotype, “Asian-submissive”, nor are they shallow one-joke ponies. As a Korean-American comedian and actress, it is frustratingly difficult to find a young Asian actress to look up to, especially in comedy. Show biz is hard, and it is even harder when you watch the shows/movies you love and can’t find anyone who looks like you. Greta is not only a beacon of light from my gorgeous Asian eyes (which makeup artists remind me are “...small”), but more objectively, from my human person eyes. As human people, we should bow down to her bossdom in these areas:
She plays the "crazy man".
Amanda in 4000 Miles, Homeless Heidi in High Maintenance, Soojin on Girls. In the very *high-brow* comedic duality of straight man/crazy man, she plays crazy which is not a role often played by women, let alone Asian women. Crazy man roles are usually reserved for nerdy white dudes, bearded white dudes, that white dude you met in improv class, or white gals, or black dudes...or black gals...literally everyone else. As Heidi, her nuances drive the scene forward, she has the punch lines, and is therefore the memorable character.
Hair game on fleek with so many colors and styles and feelings, and normcore fashion (the good kind) is her bitch. And I rarely say “bitch”. Follow her.
Her "crazy man" roles aren't defined by her Asian-ness
Soojin in Girls is not crazy because she is Asian, she is crazy because she is blindly privileged, self-righteous, imperfect, and complex. This is what makes a character relatable and interesting to watch. Unlike Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) in Pitch Perfect**, who is written to be so shy and passive that she PHYSICALLY CAN’T speak above a whisper. As a modern Asian woman, this stereotype is straight up painful and tiring to watch.
**If I put a piece of paper over Lilly’s face (left) and trace over the lines, she will literally look like an anime character. Great job hair and makeup department!!!!! There’s no reason to make Hana Mae Lee look like this unless you SO BADLY want her to look like an Asian cartoon.
She plays a "genuine idiot".
Some may argue that in Sisters, where Greta Lee plays a nail salon technician, was an example of a stereotypical Asian caricature, but it’s not like she was an accessory to Amy Poehler’s punch lines. She doesn’t shamefully not understand English and then keep to herself. She has a hilarious back and forth with Amy Poehler, where they each try to say each other’s names (Hae Won and Maura) in their respectful accents. After that back and forth is over, you’re left wondering who is being more genuinely idiotic. For me, whoever is more of the asshole in an honest way by the end of the scene makes that character more memorable and lovable. (think: Leslie in Parks and Rec, Dwight in The Office, Marnie in Girls)
She knows wtf is up with fashion.
She calls the future of fashion “ugly-sexy” which personally I’m very pumped about. What a relief.
She knows KOREAN. (as seen on instagram)
This is a sensitive topic to us kids of immigrants. Not speaking your mother language is a point of shame, especially when you’re older and trying to look cool in front of your friends… and casting directors named “Susan”. Maybe more importantly, when you can’t speak to your Grandma because your broken Korean or Chinese or Bengali sounds to them like gibberish from a broken vacuum cleaner. Not having lost your mother-tongue, to first generation parents is impressive, and to second generation kids, awe inspiring.
Greta may have surpassed some of Hollywood’s racism, but I know she is still affected by whitewashing, as are all POC in the industry. My fave example is The Martian. As some of you know, the character of Mindy Park, who was written as an Asian American character (and a very Korean gal name) was played by a white Canadian actress. People defended this by saying Park could be a white person’s last name. Just for funzies, I google imaged “Mindy Park” and found this:
Half images of Korean women, and the other half images of Mackenzie Davis as Mindy Park who I guess is now redefining my heritage. Then, I texted my Korean friend Mindy Park, “are you Korean?” and she said “yes”. Anyway, maybe this is creepy, but I imagined Greta Lee playing this role in The Martian, a super-smart NASA engineer, and how it would have been so much better and more interesting to watch with accurate casting and Greta’s sharp wit.
This aside is less about me being creepy and more about my uncontrollable anger over whitewashing in Hollywood. The Martian is yet another example of the hurdles that are presented to Asians. What should we do? Write a Facebook rant about it? Check. Already did. Did I, like clockwork, get get pushback from white male friends about it? Sure did! What now? Keep going, keep working, even in the face of this racism at the highest level. Great!
Seeing other Asian actresses, a la Greta Lee, share her talents so positively and successfully in Hollywood, reminds me that this can happen. You can make your passion your career and be successful. It’s comforting to know that there is someone out there who shares a similar, though obviously not exact, experience of being a second generation Korean-American pursuing that passion. Like, Your mom wears visors? MY MOM WEARS VISORS.
Ultimately, I want to see more Asian American actors/writers/directors in Hollywood not only as an effort for equal opportunity and to tell the Asian story (def check out this interview with Constance Wu), but also to encourage Asian kids to pursue the arts. I can tell you right now that a primary reason I didn’t get into acting-comedy-performing-in-NYC-bar-basements sooner, is because I didn’t see us on TV in a way I liked, and, as they say: “What’s out of sight, is out of mind” (Kelly Clarkson “Since U Been Gone”; 2004)**. Sadly, without any other options, I joined Teach For America. Just kidding! TFA is great! Relax! But is it? I don’t remember.
So in a completely celebratory NOT CREEPY way, thank you Greta Lee for being the amazingly talented, funny, and trailblazing human you are.
**These are standard MLA parenthetical citations.